Category ►►► Future of the GOP
April 26, 2013
Everything We Know About Elections Is Wrong,
Fourth Movement and Coda
How can the GOP take advantage of the axioms of coolness, without losing its soul?
Remember, the axioms of coolness don't mandate going over the top! Unlike Democrats, Republicans should always ask, "WWRD?" I don't mean with regard to policy; many of Reagan's programs would be anachronisms today (such as building a massive tank corps). What we need to start emulating is Reagan's understanding of how elections are won... and the core of that understanding does not change, even while the technology and specific mechanisms are in constant flux.
For example, Reagan never tried to demonize vast segments of ordinary Americans; he confined his attacks to actual enemies, such as the Soviet Union and corrupt politicians. Nor did he frighten us by saying we're all going to die if we don't slavishly support every policy of his. And he would have laughed in the face of any aide who advised him to compare himself to Moses, Jesus, or Mohammed.
Our current "cool" president embodies all three of these vile, bullying strategies, to the point of narcissism bordering on self-deification. Alas, such tactics work very well for the Left; it's their bread and buttered circuses.
Consider the recent upswing in the number of Americans who now favor redistribution of wealth. When economic times are good, most folks are happy to "allow" rich people to keep the money they earn. But when the economy turns sour, a large swath of the electorate panics -- they believe the only way the rich got their riches was by stealing it all from the rest of us. There's no other possible explanation! (Cf. Sneaking Apples from the Great Wealth Tree)
Democrats play on that paranoia, whipping up class warfare, because they thrive on insecurity, fear, and chaos... as do radical Islamists. But that simply doesn't work for Republican candidates.
But what does work for us is the emotional connection most Americans still have to our country. Democrats used to be able to rely upon loyalty and patriotism, but they have thrown that all away in their pursuit of divide-and-conquer and control-by-crisis. But the GOP still has the ties that bind, tethering us to the America I think the great majorities long for: The America that is truly "e pluribus unum," out of many, one, not the other way 'round.
I believe most people still support the idea of private property. They still want their economic and intellectual liberty. They still believe in a melting pot for immigrants, in assimilation, despite all the hate-mongering and propaganda from the salad-bowl activists. They believe in traditional marriage and normal families, not all the bizarre and incomprehensible hook-ups you find in gay and swinger communities. (Americans also believe in minding their own business, which is why ultraconservative fantasies of reinstating a ban on gays in the military and overturning Lawrence v. Texas, the Court ruling that struck down all anti-sodomy laws, are not only futile but electorally devastating.)
I believe most Americans are outraged by late-term abortions, particularly partial-birth abortions; but they see an enormous distinction between a baby and a single fertilized cell, a zygote. If we conflate the horror show of Kermit Gosnell and his post-birth "abortions" with embryonic stem-cell research, we lend credence to the absurdist charge that Republicans are anti-science theocrats.
We have many, many paths to beating Democrats by playing according to our rules, not theirs. We can turn the tables on them in many different ways; but like Jerry Seinfeld's lock, we actually have to use these techniques in order for them to work.
How about this: "We don't want people to needlessly suffer from lack of medical treatment for devastating illnesses like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. But at the same time, we don't want to force devout people support a procedure that causes them moral anguish. But we can resolve this dilemma by pressing hard for more funding of non-embryonic stem-cell research (placental, amneotic, and adult stem cells), and especially by pursuing non-destructive embryonic stem-cell research, a new approach which has quietly been percoating in the background."
This puts the Democrats into the perilous position of arguing that they would prefer destructive embryonic stem-cell research, because they want to see more embryos die. (This is almost as awkward a position as advocating partial-birth abortion while the Gosnell trial rages.)
We miss great emotional opportunities because we're so fixated on logicking voters into submission. Yet in successful political campaigns, logic never leads; it backfills. That is our first fundamental tactic.
- First convert, then persuade; get the right emotional pitch, and voters will retroactively be persuaded by the logic.
The logic is important, vital; it separates us from the Bonesian Left. When Dr. McCoy and Commander Spock agree, that is when we can find the Kirkian Mean... and that is when we win elections, often by a landslide.
Next, everybody in the Republican Party agrees that we need to do a better job of candidate selection; but that's like sticking your head out the window and then opening it, or putting on your shoes and socks -- in that order. Before we select a candidate, we must have a set of criteria for the qualities we're selecting! And "likeability" and "coolness" must be much higher up the great chain of candidate selection than "is a policy wonk" and "has a 5,000-page master plan to solve everything."
We will rarely win elections when our candidate is boring and reactionary (Romney), cranky and verging on iconoclastic (McCain), doddering and constantly referring to himself in the third person (Blob Dole), or a monomaniacal, one-note wonder (practically all the losing GOP candidates in the last several primaries). Unfortunately, it seems as if this is your grandfather's Republican Party!
We shouldn't toss away the eternal verities, but every old and ineffectual policy of the past is fair game for preemptive defenstration. This brings us to our second tactic:
- GOP candidate-selection criteria must lean heavily towards hip, likeable, and interesting candidates, technically savvy, forward-looking, with new ideas instead of the tired old garbage that didn't work well even back in the day, and is far less likely to succeed tomorrow and next year.
Finally, we don't need a detailed Theory of Everything; that sounds a bit too millennarian for comfort. But we do need a coherent overarching narrative into which all the bits and pieces can eventually fit.
For example, Reagan's narrative was that domestic government was too big, while security government was not nearly big enough: The government should stop intruding where it's neither needed nor desired, such as hampering innovation by driving up interest rates, trying to control the economy by brute force, launching anti-competitive spending sprees, and raising tax rates in order to "level" wealth... and instead should start spending its money to protect the American people from harm by, e.g., the evil empire.
Once Americans understood Reagan's priorities, virtually every policy, from tax cuts to defense build-ups to his (failed) attempt to curb domestic spending made perfect sense in context. That's because Reagan did, in fact, think logically from first principles, then craft policies that embodied his reasoning. (Though he pitched those policies in "emotion, then logic" order.) Thus, the coherent overarching narrative is our third tactic:
- Republican candidates must be able to tell an enthralling story about where we are now, how we got there, and where we go from here. And the candidate's actual, specific policy proposals must arise naturally out of that narrative.
Rules for fighting radicals, or brother can you paradigm?
Nobody can guarantee that Republicans will hold the House and take back the Senate next year, nor that one of us will be elected president in 2016. But if we follow these three fairly obvious rules for candidates and the party itself...
- Lead with passion and emotion, backfill with logic
- Nominate candidates who are likeable, cool, and futuristic, not pining for the "good ol' days"
- Construct a believable and uplifting general narrative; then fit policy to the story, not the other way 'round
...Then we Republicans will improve our chances of electoral victory a thousandfold, because finally we'll have earned it!
Those of us who remember the JImmy Carter years will recollect how hopeless everything seemed during his term; here's what we faced (and this is a non-inclusive list):
- We had a president who hated America and everything for which it stands, and who was feckless, hapless, and clueless.
- Democrats had controlled the Senate since 1955, and the House since 1933 (FDR's first landslide). In fact, the House remained in Democrat hands throughout Reagan's entire term as well, not switching until the 1994 Newt Gingrich revolution; yet somehow, Reagan got about 70% of everything he sought, a much better record than the current occupier.
- Entrepeneurs could not start new businesses, and existing businesses could not expand. The economy had sunk into a hellish quarmire of a stagnating economy and rapidly rising inflation simultaneously, dubbed "stagflation" -- which the Keynesians assured us was impossible, therefore wasn't really happening. (Whenever a "theory of everything" runs up against stubborn facts on the ground, the only proper answer is to deny the facts and "correct" the measurements to whatever theory says they should be. Cf. Globaloney.)
- Taxes were very high, interest rates even higher. Energy prices were through the roof, and we had long lines for federally rationed gasoline. America seemed to have caught a terrible case of the flu.
- Our military was shrinking while the Soviet and Red-Chinese threats expanded; we were wrong-footed again and again in areas as far-flung as Vietnam, Angola, and Afghanistan, and as close as Cuba, and Nicaragua. Communism was advancing all across the globe, and nearly everybody believed it was unstoppable. America's best days appeared to be far, far behind us. Carter fully embraced the grand vision of detente, which meant trying desperately to "contain" the Red threat while doing nothing to roll it back anywhere, pure defense with no offense.
- Our nation was humiliated by the hostage crisis -- a bunch of theocrats in Iran, emboldened by Carter's astonishing weakness and triggered when he allowed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to come to the U.S. for cancer treatment, seized 66 embassy personnel including U.S. Marines. The hostage takers, so-called students, later released thirteen women and blacks ("oppressed minorities") and one white man who was seriously ill... thus inflicting further embarassment on us, as their mockery of Western compassion made us look like the real guilty party. 52 hostages were held for the last 443 days of the Carter administration and the first day of Reagan's.
- Carter was a spoil-sport even in the world of sport, preventing American athletes (and via treaty, the athletes from 64 U.S. allies) from attending the Moscow Olympics; the boycott was a spasmotic gesture of utter futility over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. (Carter opined after the invasion that he hadn't realized that the Soviet Union was expansionist.) Net effect of the boycott: Countries from Western Europe, more or less tied to America (Italy, France, and Great Britain), won 50 medals; countries in the Soviet sphere won 581 medals. Boy, we sure taught them a lesson!
We were weak economically, militarily, and morally; and during the depths of that horrible time, it sure looked like it might be a permanent shift to the left that would never be undone.
Then along came a presidential candidate with a forceful but likeable personality, a set of good ideas, and a history of keeping both his word and his principles; and that was all it took to shatter the old paradigm and initiate a new.
Defeat is always an option; but despair, surrender, cowardice, and quitting need not be. No nation is truly defeated until its citizens simply give up the fight, roll over, and take the slave's collar.
So let's not. Let's get up on our pins and start fighting back. But this time, we'll take the fight to the Progressivist Left, and we'll swim with the current of the great river of traditional American culture, and ride the oceanic swells of shared emotional understandings to which every human is heir. We have a huge advantage: Progressivists despise the former and cruelly exploit the latter... and don't think Americans don't know that! We simply haven't given them a viable alternative recently.
Instead of calls to jettison conservative policies, which are as valid today as they were thirty-three years ago, let's reappraise our emotionless and atomized method of delivering the traditional ideas that still resonate with the American people. Instead of cross-dressing our ideology and getting political-reassignment surgery to look more like Progressivists, we ought to campaign on our traditional principles, but with a lot more romance!
April 25, 2013
Everything We Know About Elections Is Wrong,
Why everything we know is wrong
We drew the wrong lesson from Reagan's stunning success. Because he always provided the logical basis and underpinning for his positions and policies -- after the emotional, road-to-Damascus conversion; and because Republican and conservative/libertarian activists tend to be more Spockian, we developed the bad habit of seizing upon that logic as if that was what did the trick... while neglecting all the Bonesian, emotional arguments that did the actual heavy lifting.
Then we try to win elections by dropping entire encyclopedias of wonk on the voter's head (e.g., Paul Ryan).
There is nothing wrong with converting by emotional reason if there is also a logical argument as well. But we often forget that and find ourselves embarassed, as GOP activists, by emotionalism, by passion, even by such as simple thing as "feeling someone's pain." It's hardly surprising that voters like people who appear to like them, and dislike people who appear to disdain them. That's why, even on the left, successful leaders are more like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama than like Maxine Waters or Hillary Clinton. But for some reason, the Left is perfectly willing to reach out to ordinary people in an emotional way, but the Right obsesses on wonkism. The Right understands principle and policy, but the Left understands people; which side do you think will usually win?
That was Reagan's great breakthrough: He discovered a way to develop policies and positions from logical reasoning from first principles, but explain them in language that ordinary folks can understand and agree with.
It's a powerful combination, strong enough to overcome great electoral obstacles: "Compassionate conservative" George W. Bush pulled off a stunning victory over the anointed successor to Bill Clinton, Vice President Algore, despite the Clinton administration having left office in peace and plenty; and he followed that up by winning an even more solid victory four years later, despite recession and years of warfare. In this instance, Bush sincerely felt the joy and the pain of the American people -- and both his foes were robo-Dem nerds.
Lessons that should have been learnt: Empathy springs from shared emotional understanding, not shared political algorithms.
Emotions evolved in archaic Man as a means of communicating on a deeper level than mere words. Words could be lies; but emotions have always been thought to be harder to fake than language. (Again, whether this is really true is irrelevant; it matter only that most people think it true, thus are more convinced by emotional than logical argument.)
So what makes a candidate cool?
Almost nothing John McCain could have done in the 2008 endgame would have reversed the outcome; his goose was cooked when he ran a national-security campaign, and the bottom fell out of the housing market instead. In 2012, I tried to keep up my spirits, but my heart sank when I realized that Mitt Romney simply could not convey an emotional connection. He might have been the most heartfelt feller in the race (anything's possible!); but he couldn't deliver on the most important issue of every election: "understanding people like me," which is shorthand for "understanding my joys and sorrows, liking the kinds of things that I like, disliking what I dislike, and reveling in the popular culture of the United States."
People disconnected from pop culture are notoriously uncool; they seem remote, aloof, uncaring. (I should know, that describes me to a T!) Many contemporary conservatives and anti-liberals -- and especially libertarians -- hate and despise pop culture, because they only see the parts that are bad -- Paris Hilton Pop.
But there are many facets to pop culture, from family-oriented and often uplifting country-western music, picnics and parties, NASCAR and baseball, TCM and Dancing With the Stars, sports bars and "foreign" restaurants, movies and Broadway plays, concerts and Shakespeare in the park. "Pop culture" includes lonely and disturbed teenaged sexters looking for Mr. Goodbar, but that's only a sad sliver of it, the part that the Left adores.
But rarely anymore does a GOP nominee come across as connected to any aspect of pop culture; instead they condemn virtually all pop culture, painting with an enormously broad brush. But connecting to pop culture means, by definition, connecting to the mass of voters.
Consider our last two standard bearers, John McCain and Mitt Romney. How connected did they seem to the ordinary American and the culture of the people? But there are always aspects of pop culture that any Republican candidate should be able to embrace wholeheartedly and with complete sincerity, without looking awkward and embarassed by it.
Too, survival is always cool: Even Richard Nixon, the paranoid android, was able to beat two candidates ostensibly cooler (or at least less nerdy), Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. Clearly the Republican was nevertheless able to persuade voters, by the use of entirely justified fear-mongering, that the Democrat Party of the late sixties and early seventies didn't take national security seriously enough.
That is a meme that is always available to the GOP -- but we have to make the case, of course; as George W. Bush could do after the 9/11 attacks. And of course right now many Americans are feeling quite vulnerable, less secure about their own safety... which is a major reason why Barack Obama's approval is sinking, while Bush's is rising.
So there we have a couple of criteria for coolness -- connection to popular culture and committment to protecting Americans from violent attack and economic collapse. But here is a third, one that leaves Republicans with a bad taste because of its most recent abuser: conveying the opportunity of a transcendent transformation of America.
At the risk of offending readers who hate explicit definitions, let me define that term. A "transcendent transformation" is a wholistic and fundamental reconfiguration of the very idea of America and Americanism, comprehensive changes to the status quo in order to achieve overarching goals that pass beyond quotidian experience, beyond the commonplace.
The current occupier of 1600 Pennsylvania clearly ventured into a call for transcendent transformation when he claimed that, due to his own advent (and I mean that in its Messianic sense) --
If we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth.
Delusions of grandeur, even a God complex? Perhaps; but also extremely effective electorally. Obama filled a gaping hole in the hearts of many Americans, bogged down by a sagging economy, unending warfare with no clear narrative for victory, and purposeless governance that merely responded to crisis after crisis without "getting anywhere." Despite all the good, even great things George W. Bush did, that was the psychic legacy he left in 2008.
So let's review these three criteria for coolness in a presidential candidate:
- A strong connection to the culture of most Americans -- "I am one of you, not one of them!"
- A forceful pledge to protect ordinary families and individuals from violent attack and economic upheavel -- "I will stand beside you and protect you from harm as your guardian angel!"
- A promise of fundamental change that ushers in a new, transcendent era of peace, prosperity, and justice -- "I am the One to lead you to the promised land!"
There are surely other aspects of political coolness, but I believe these are the tree most effective ones. Each of these three axioms of coolness can be played soft and reassuring, as with Reagan (let's fundamentally change back to the roots of Americana), or hard and radical (let us create the New Soviet Man), or anywhere in between, producing either a great hero or a nightmarish dictator. But every transformative leader in history has used some combination of these three axioms: I am of the body, I am your lord protector, and I will lead you to a great and mighty future.
Presidential candidates who deftly campaign within the axioms of coolness tend to be elected; those who do so clumsily (or ignore them altogether) lose a great advantage, and will likely lose the election if they run against a "cool" competitor (e.g., Hoover vs. FDR, Carter vs. Reagan, Romney vs. Obama).
April 24, 2013
Everything We Know About Elections Is Wrong,
What's cool anyway?
It cannot be defined so easily, because coolness can be neither measured nor contained: A charismatic candidate will shift the very definition of "cool." Reagan turned big government into a pejorative, and he turned tax cuts and a beefy national defense into cool new ideas; but more recently, Barack "Limitless" Obama turned Americans in exactly the opposite direction, towards the coolness of being welfare kings and queens, being cruel and atomized, and being politically apathetic (except when "protest" morphs into a political rave).
The policies did not make Reagan and Obama cool; these winning candidates made the policies cool, simply by association with themselves. The coolness of a cool candidate rubs off on his programs almost as an afterthought.
Reagan's magic formula
So what makes a candidate cool in the first place? How did Reagan sell America on such a major transformation in 1980? Much as it pains me, a Spockian (and the innovator of the Spockian-Bonesian axis of emotion and logic in the first place, many years ago*), Reagan's primary method of converting voters to Reaganism and Reaganomics was not logical argument.
Most people cannot be persuaded or converted by logic or reason alone. Reagan himself said something to that effect: You can't logically argue a man out of a position he wasn't logically argued into in the first place.
So Reagan perfected a brilliant technique:
- First, convert the voter emotionally, passionately.
- Then once converted, give him the underlying logic to retroactively justify his conversion.
Converting in this order is vital. All the brilliant logical arguments in the world will not suffice to convert the average voter from A to B. But after first being converted by raw, seething emotion, by passion, by a transcendent vision, then even the easiest logic will keep him in your camp forever: The convert is looking for any excuse to agree with you. ("Reagan Democrats" are best evidence of this proposition.)
To win elections, you first must be able to "win friends and influence people." When folks like you, they'll be hugely more receptive to anything you have to say.
* From a piece I posted on a bulletin board on January 23rd, 2003:
A while back, I came up with a sceme to describe different personality types -- another one of those axes with one extreme at one end, another at the other, and every person falling somewhere along the axis.
At the extreme left edge are the "Bonesians;" at the extreme right are the "Spockians;" and in the center is the "Kirkian Mean."
The vast majority of folks fall on the Bonesian side of the axis: they relate on an emotional level better than on an intellectual level; emotional arguments are more convincing to them that logical arguments; they empathize with others, they are good at comforting, they enjoy socializing -- and in social settings, they don't want to talk about controversial or "argumentative" subjects.
At the opposite end are the Spockians, who are much fewer in number than the Bonesians. Spockians are very uncomfortable with emotional displays, arguments, or situations. They do not empathize with others, they are not quick to offer sympathy. But they are better at intellectual type arguments; they understand logic; they actually enjoy discussing controversial topics and eagerly accept counterarguments, so long as the ripostes are also intellectual, not emotional, in character.
Obviously, both sides have strengths and weaknesses; the Kirkian Mean combines the best of both: Captain Kirk can move either left to empathize and understand the emotional component of a problem, or right to grasp the logical complexities and difficulties.
I like to describe it like this: You want your priest to be a Bonesian and your cardiac surgeon to be a Spockian, and your family doctor had better reside at the Kirkian Mean!
Spockians think Bonesians are intellectual lightweights. Bonesians think Spockians are cold-hearted stonefaces. People are what they are, but it's always a good idea for Spockians to try to understand to the left and Bonesians to understand to the right.
But here's the "big but": Bonesians are so numerous, they rarely encounter a Spockian. They can live their lives while seduously avoiding all Spockians. Whereas the Spockians are surrounded by Bonesians and can't help bumping into them. Thus, usually Spockians have more experience of Bonesians than vice versa. To a Bonesian, a Spockians is more or less an "alien" (Gene Roddenberry wonderfully understood this in Star Trek), and the Bonesian is either frightened, angered, or repelled by him. No matter how Spockians feel, however, and unlike their counterparts, they are compelled by circumstances to deal with a lot of Bonesians.
April 23, 2013
Everything We Know About Elections Is Wrong,
In Four Movements and a Coda
Some days back, my fave blogger on my fave blog posted a plaintive, desperate cri de coeur: "Why aren't more people repelled by the Left?"
I can't tell whether John's question is serious or rhetorical, but there is an obvious explanation: Defiance is "cool" to younger voters and activists, because they're still in the throes of their own genetically driven urge to leave the nest and create their own family line. Without evolutionarily induced defiance, mammals would never leave their mothers.
This is likely why teens and early-twenties tend to vote more leftish than older voters: genes.
But it brings up a larger point: For decades now, at least since the late sixties, Republicans have been thought to be stodgy, old-fashioned, reminiscent, hidebound, nerdy, and out of touch with the contemporary world. By contrast, the Left has successfully painted itself as bright, new, clever, nimble, snarky (which now seems a good thing), and above all, cool.
I will say this over and over: In elections, reality is meaningless; image is everything.
So given our image, we must ask a very serious (and not at all rhetorical) question: Can GOPers ever be elected again?
The answer, I'm happy to say, is absolutely! But not by the kinds of campaigns Republicans prefer running these days; we're chasing hydrofoils with canoes.
We need to emulate, not the corrupt, totalitarian policies of Progressivists, but their brilliant ability to grab the electorate and make it dance to their tune. In particular, we Republicans must master three techniques that we have (for the most part) disdained until now:
- Convert your voter first by passion and emotion, and only later persuade him with logic.
- Pick candidates that are likeable, future-looking, and cool -- not nerdy, annoying, and obsessed with a Golden Age that never was.
- Develop a consistent narrative of government, what it should be and do; then let policy flow from that story, rather than warp the story to justify predetermined policies of the past.
To make my point clearer, I will focus only on presidential candidates. But the same strategies of coolness, emotion, and finally logic to retoactively justifiy the emotional decision still apply, even when scaled up to the 535 members of Congress -- e.g., Newt Gingrich's victory in 1994.
Wait, isn't this pointless, now that the "Gang of Eight" is going to grant a path to citizenship for all the illegal aliens, and they'll all vote for Democrats, so the GOP will never win another election?
The two phenomena are not connected; it's not like we have to choose either to improve GOP campaign strategies or securing the border, but not both! Each will either happen or not happen independent of the other. So there's no rational reason to reject improvement of electioneering skills just because the 2016 electorate will have more Hispanics than in 2012, or because the 2024 electorate will include some number of erstwhile illegal immigrants. It's like saying, "Radical-Islamist terrorism will probably increase in a few years, so there's no point in refinancing your high-interest home loan."
Now let's get on with the show!
Coolness as political proxy
In any election, the mass of voters will cast votes for the candidate they consider the coolest and most likeable, and who seems to be looking ahead, not behind, with little regard to logical argument or rational policy-making.
Let's define "hyper-informed Republican voters" (HIRVs) as those folks who read blogs like Power Line, Patterico's Pontifications, Hot Air, who read books by Ben Shapiro, Thomas Sowell, Jonah Goldberg, and suchlike, and who tend to vote GOP. We must understand that HIRVs do not win elections.
Most voters vote a straight party ticket, usually whichever party their parents voted; and the balance of the election, especially in more recent times, is held by the Low-Information Voters (LIVs), those who rarely read about politics or policy -- and almost never deliberately. Most of their political ideas, quirks, and outbursts come from ostensibly non-political sources, from celebrities, gossip columns, and meme-squibs squirted into otherwise apolitical articles in culture media (glamor shows, teen idols, fashion mavins, homemaking magazines). Alas, the vast majority of such sources lean very far to the left.
But it's important to understand that LIVs are not necessarily stupid or even ignorant; they simply don't obsess over politics as we do, being too busy at the "real life" thing.
But does that mean we anti-liberals are doomed to suffer defeat after defeat until Doomsday? Not at all. Bear in mind that in 1980, the electorate considered Ronald Reagan more futuristic, coherent, and certainly way cooler than doddering, ineffectual, confused, rabbit-fearing Jimmy Carter. Why was Reagan cooler than Carter? Well for several superficial reasons and one deep insight. True, the Gipper was better looking, more affable, a much better speaker, more optimistic about America's future, more patriotic; but most of all, because Reagan enunciated ideas we hadn't heard a thousand times before, from tax cuts to ballistic missile defense. He shattered the old paradigm of "make do with less, settle for adequacy," and showed us a "shining city on a hill" that we could have, if only we would look forward, not backwards.
Reagan clearly came across to most voters as exciting, adventurous, innovative, and brave; not bad for the oldest president we've ever elected! Reagan didn't back down from anybody; and in 1980, Americans were getting pretty tired of being kicked in the aspirations by every tinhorn, Commie dictator on the planet.
Would he be elected today? Would he fit within the GOP's current ideology? Of course he would -- because the Republican Party would change to fit Reagan, just as it did twenty-three years ago!
But in the list of requirements for a winning candidate, notice the one that isn't there: conservative. Conservatism is no longer an automatic asset to a candidate, if it ever was; we must face reality that, for the large majority of voters, ideology is irrelevant to electibility. Anyone, from a rock-ribbed conservative like Reagan to a card-carrying Progressivist/socialist like Barack H. Obama, can be "cool."
June 25, 2011
Perversity's blowback as the savior of marriage
Now that New York State has approved same-sex marriage -- rather, now that the New York State legislature has done so, probably over the objections of a strong majority of its own citizen constituents -- we need a battleplan to hold the line against this becoming the norm.
Why? So what if the federal circus courts begin striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in this and that circuit, forcing states that oppose SSM nevertheless to have it de facto anyway. What's the big deal?
The "big deal" is that once same-sex marriage (SSM) has become nearly universal around the country, then we're going to see the same terrible effects on our society that we already see in Europe: diminished interest in marriage (it's no longer special), more domestic violence, even quicker divorces, a marked drop in the fertility rate, massive importation of fecund immigrants who have no loyalty whatsoever to the United States... and of course ever greater pressure to also allow polygamy and polyandry, group marriage, and so forth.
Pro-SSM people (like Patterico) are fond of making the argument that somebody else's SSM doesn't affect his own marriage; his marriage is still just as strong! Just as strong, perhaps; but not just as special as it used to be, not when any random association between two or more people of any gender can also be called a "marriage."
It's like counterfeiting money: If I print my own twenty-dollar bills, that doesn't physically change the real bills you have in your wallet at this moment; they don't magically change into newspaper, the ink doesn't turn a different color, Andy Jackson doesn't morph into George Soros. In that sense, my counterfeits don't directly affect your sawbucks... but my counterfeits indirectly devalue your real bills, creating uncertainty about which currency is real and which is fake, how much is out there, which is truly legal tender and which an ersatz copy that, if discovered, is worthless.
My counterfeit currency spreads fear, uncertainty, doubt. Private counterfeiting is as bad as rampant money-creation via the Federal Reserve; worse in the sense that at least the Fed must report on its activities from time to time.
By this analogy, traditional marriage is the currency backed by some form of specie, that which gives the institution of marriage itself the very cachet and social benefit that same-sex couples want to claim for their own. Contrariwise, any other form of union that is legally called marriage is the fiat or counterfeit currency; it piggy-backs on the real institution of marriage, hoping some of the moral, emotional, and sacred virtue rubs off.
Marriage is quite a special social institution; that's why it's the one to which we entrust child rearing. But to paraphrase Dash in the Incredibles, when everything is "special," then nothing is special.
So what to do, what to do? With the third largest state in the U.S. falling, I fear that train has left the station. Even if there is a later referendum in New York and the people reverse that decision, already hundreds of thousands of people across the nation will have flown to the Bug Apple and gotten legally married. And as we're finding out in California, you can't put the genie back in the bottle again, even if it was let out in despite of the voters.
You can't fight something with nothing; we need something positive to fight for, not just something negative to fight against; we can't allow ourselves to be put on the defensive by the Left and by libertarians who oppose legal marriage altogether. I believe there is only one answer: The Covenant marriage movement must become a popular front, just as the Tea Party movement already has.
Covenant marriage (CM) as a distinct legal institution arose comparatively recently, in response to the jump in the divorce rate in the 1980s. It differs significantly from normal legal marriage in ways that make it vastly more exclusive an institution:
- In a CM, couples must first undergo pre-nuptial counseling before they can marry.
- They agree to limit the grounds for divorce from the standard normal around the country -- if either party wants a divorce, that's grounds for divorce -- to a much narrower set of grounds, usually spousal or child abuse, felony conviction, or adultery. (If a state allows a CM couple to negotiate its own covenant, there can of course be more or fewer grounds for divorce.)
- Any CM passed by citizen demand would, by its enabling legislation, be restricted to the traditional definition of marriage -- one man, one woman. Creating a new form of marriage to exclude non-traditional groups of people being married is the only reason that CM legislation is likely to be passed in most states.
- CM is non-denominational and can be performed by civil authorities as well as religious; there's no religiosity requirement.
But how could CM become "the savior of marriage?" It's clear that the law cannot confer any greater legal status upon a couple married under CM than normal marriage confers upon the two, three, n-number of males and/or females who "marry" under that regime.
Yet that very point should make it harder for the courts to subvert CM: Same-sex couples (and later, groups of people larger than two) cannot argue that they're excluded from legal marriage, up to and including the name "marriage." They have the same legal rights and status, insofar as the secular law is concerned. Therefore, they have no legal ground to demand that Covenant marriage be forced to allow same-sex, polyamorous, group, incestuous, or under-aged marriages. The only difference between normal and Covenant marriage is that the latter has a number of restrictions not found in the former.
True, CM confers no more legal rights than normal marriage; but extra legal rights were never really the source of the specialness of marriage -- except perhaps the legal right for spouses not to testity against each other. (That last will certainly have to be revisioned when polyamorous marriages are allowed, unless we want entire Mafia families and street gangs to "marry" each other, so that nobody can squeal.)
No, the specialness of marriage has always flowed from its exclusivity and its permanence... which is why the Left has persistently attacked both those qualities by (a) twisting the definition of marriage towards making any association of any number of people a "marriage," and (b) making it easier and easier to walk away from a marriage upon the slightest pretext, provocation, or whim.
By restoring exclusivity and strengthening permanence, CM becomes the "real" marriage, and ordinary legal marriage just a trendy domestic partnership. And if that is how people begin to see it, we'll see more and more traditional couples getting married under Covenant, so they can demonstrate to the world their commitment to, and determination to work at, the union.
Ordinary legal marriage will persist, and will still confer the same legal status and rights; but it will probably fall into greater and greater disrepute among the majority: "Oh, you won't marry me with a Covenenant marriage? What, you want a back door out whenever you get bored with me? Drop dead, you creep!"
Women especially will have good reason to demand a CM or nothing: They know better than most men how vital is an intact family, with a male father and a female mother, when raising children.
A few caveats, none of which changes the basic equation:
- It's very unlikely that Congress will pass a federal version of CM. Nor should it. We have an enviable system of federalism; let it work! Each state can decide what exact kind of Covenant marriage to allow, if any, in its enabling legislation.
- Even if your state enacts a strong version of CM, it cannot make it illegal for one of the partners to move to another state, establish residency, and then get divorced under that state's no-fault divorce law that doesn't recognize the covenant. That's the price of liberty.
There will never come a time when normal marriage is abolished altogether; because if it did vanish from a state, then the Left could once again raise the spector of "unequal treatment." Specious though it is -- gays and straights alike are constrained in who they can marry; neither can marry a sibling, for example -- the judiciary has signalled that it is ready to cram SSM down our throats, and to hell with voters.
But that's a feature, not a bug; when state citizens must actually make a choice which type of marriage to enter into, they necessarily will have to think longer and harder about it that with a normal legal marriage. (As of course we all should, and do, if we believe it to be a solemn vow.)
Just as tea parties have swept the nation in a "popular front" -- and I believe I was the first person to so desribe them, back in February, 2010 -- I see Covenant marriage doing the same (with a vast overlap, most likely). And that means those of us who support traditional marriage no longer need wage a defensive war, trying to protect every state, city, village, and farm from the contagion of the "love bug," the untenable and cockamamie meme that "love is all you need" for marriage.
That bit of wrongthinking leads directly to our present discontent, the conclusion that any two or more people who "love" each other should be allowed to marry... men, women, siblings, fathers with their daughters, forty year olds with fourteen year olds, one man with eight women.
Instead, we can revert to the traditional American strategy of opening our own offensive. Rather than try to defend the status quo ante, we fight to implement a new form of marriage that is more exclusive and more permanent, bucking the leftist trend towards inclusion and impermanence. We slap both kinds of marriage on the table, then let the people choose. I predict that after an astonishingly brief time, "normal" marriage, with its unspecial universality and unserious provisional nature, will sink into desuetude, the last step before moribundity.
Americans may be many things, but not generally a mob: When the Left forces mob-rule upon us -- or more accurately, when they gin-up mobs to force tyranny upon the rest of us, with themselves as smug, self-satisfied tyrants -- we the people have a glorious history of rising up against them. This is true whether it's the tyranny of socialism, the tyranny of "diversity," or the tyranny of perversity.
As SSM spreads and infects more and more states, CM will grow alongside and surpass it in every venue. Soon the Obamunists will be fighting the defensive war, clinging to their "inclusive" definition of marriage. We achieve victory within the culture, despite -- even because of -- the Left's victory in the courts and legislatures. As an institution that is far more societal than legal, a solid victory within the culture is of much greater moment and future value than merely winning legal and legislative battles on the ground.
As the pushback becomes a wave, then a tsunami, and more and more states enact some version of Covenant marriage, then we'll once again have an exclusive and durable form of union to offer in preference to the liberals' and leftists marriage-lite. I sense that people, most especially young adults, have grown tired of weak tea and tolerance of everything, including intolerance itself. They crave something permanent, solid, bigger than themselves.
Give us Americans the choice, and I believe we will once again lead the rest of the world out of its moral morass.
Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...
October 30, 2009
Rerun of the Perotistas
All of the lovely energy and idealism expanded this summer by the national tea parties and the general angst that is building up against the ruling Democrats and President Obama will be for naught if the populist fervor gets sidetracked into a third party.
Remember that weird, ugly, loony, fruitcake that half of the country swooned over in 1992? Like drinking a particularly vile Thunderbird or Mad Dog 2020 and waking up in some strange bed, most people who voted for Ross Perot in 1992 would probably just as soon forget about it.
Half mad, completely self-absorbed, totally won over to his own messiah-hood from reading the adoring clippings about himself (goodness, this reads like today’s headlines!), Perot energized America’s populist core because he attracted conservatives and malcontents from both parties... and he ensured that Bill Clinton won two terms as president.
While the Democrats are busy blaming the Republicans for the hurricane of protests that they reaped over the summer and have convinced themselves that it was all orchestrated by the Republican National Committee (which couldn’t competently organize a sack race), it is becoming increasingly clear that the protesters are actually the Perotistas reincarnated. Which is appropriate, given the time of year.
This is both an opportunity for Republicans and a big train wreck waiting to happen to them.
As much fun as it is to see the Democrats walking into the mouth of a volcano and calling it a nice warm bath -- and as a much fun as it is to fantasize about how next year will be a replay of 1994 and that Obama is like Jimmy Carter, only even more hapless -- the fact is that the Republican hierarchy is made up of people who are embarrassed by true conservatism: the conservatism that wants a solid dollar backed by something other than someone’s promise; the conservatism that wants something like a balanced budget; and the conservatism that doesn’t want the government to run health care.
These country-club Republicans prefer to be “Obama light;” and if they get back into power, they would probably revert to the spending ways that got them kicked out of power in the first place.
But unless they purge that mind set, they are going to find that the Perotistas have formed a third party. And then we would be doomed to Democrat rule for many years to come.
April 20, 2009
On Feudalism, Capitalism, and "American Chopper"
I have been watching "American Chopper," a real reality show on the Learning Channel (formerly on its sister station, the Discovery Channel), since the show began several years ago. It follows the adventures of a real company, Orange County Choppers (Orange County, New York), which builds choppers... in this case, the word doesn't mean helicopters but rather heavily customized motorcycles.
The company, Orange County Choppers (OCC), is a family business; it's majority-owned by the father, Paul Teutul, Sr.. (or usually just "Senior"); I believe the middle son, Paul jr. -- "Junior," or just "Paulie" -- is a partner, but I don't know how much of the company he owns (if any). As this is a multi-million dollar manufacturing business -- started from scratch in a garage -- it's a perfect symbol of the American dream: achieving almost miraculous success from ingenuity, determination, skill, and the freedom to succeed (or fail). In other words, OCC is a paean to Capitalism.
From a small genesis, they have managed to expand from hand-building custom-designed choppers for a handful of fairly wealthy clients -- which they still do, though mostly for corporate clients -- to include a product line of already assembled bikes ready for sale to those of more moderate means who still want a cool chopper. They recently constructed their own huge building for fabrication, display, and sales; and they're now sailing the tricky waters of selling their products throughout the EU, navigating the dangerous coral reefs of European environmental and labor regulations.
But recently, a catastrophe befell them... one which is part of the implicate order of contemporary corporate culture in the world today -- per David Bohm, I mean it is inherent within the corporation even before being realized, much as an oak tree is part of the implicate order of an acorn. And the solution to this inherent dilemma/contradiction is frightening, awesome (in the sense of inspiring awe), and exhilarating in its implications for the future of the GOP, of America, for the completion of Western civilization, and for the expansion of the vistas of Capitalism.
This post is quite long, so I'm putting the rest into the "Slither on." I urge you to read it because the concept (not necessarily my discussion of it) is vital to the future of, well, everything.
So let's jump right in...
Like many family businesses, there is a growing disruptive rivalry between Senior and Junior at OCC. They sometimes have terrible arguments... not as often as they used to, in the beginning of the series; but while fewer in number they seem to have grown in intensity. That's hardly surprising; as Paulie has grown into his thirties, he naturally chafes under the total control of his father; and as Junior rebels, Senior clamps down ever harder, wanting to hold onto the company that he built.
But Paulie has a huge claim to the success as well, for two reasons:
- It was Paulie who persuaded his father, over a long period of time, to allow the Discovery Channel to create a reality show around their then-small company. It was the visibility gained from that very popular cable-TV show that led to their tremendous international success today.
- And more important, it was Paulie who designed and built the spectacular choppers that repeatedly won awards, nabbed the cover of any number of motorcycle magazines, and in fact, attracted the attention of the Discovery Channel in the first place. Without Junior's creative vision and amazing ability to fabricate sheets of metal into works of art in the medium of "motorcycles," the business would still just be a tiny wart on the nose of the custom-chopper industry.
At the beginning of this season, Junior and Senior got into a horrible screaming match (over nothing, as usual)... but this time it culminated in Paul, sr., firing his son: Paulie is terminated and no longer works for OCC.
I expect that in a few more episodes, Senior (who wants his son back) and Junior (who is going crazy doing nothing) will find some way to get back together in some fashion; in the meanwhile, they are going through terrible angst that may well end up destroying their family business, flinging their success to date into the dustbin of startup history, and even tearing them apart as a family.
The builds they have finished since Paulie was fired have been uninspired at best; they produced a bike for the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, for example, that was a fairly standard chopper with a circus-like paint job. Wow. They also finished a build for the 20th anniversary of the B-2 stealth bomber; but in my opinion, the bike was a near ringer for the bike that Paulie designed and built several seasons ago for the Apache helicopter.
Compared to what Junior has been doing since the show began, this is junk. Not only that, but employees of OCC have admitted on camera (in the show) that with Paulie gone, all the builds are "taking twice as long as they should," and that they've fallen behind on other builds -- presumably the stock bikes that are almost certainly the bread and butter of Orange County Chopper. The company is being damaged and its reputation shredded, all because it's guiding spirit -- Junior, not Senior, even though the latter founded the company -- was unceremoniously ousted by his old-guard pop.
They're in serious trouble. If they don't soon come up with a workable solution to bring Paulie back, OCC will collapse under the weight of its own financial obligations, undertaken in the flush years... yet the "status quo ante" is unacceptable to both parties: Senior demands that his employees all follow certain standards, including his son; and Paulie is being driven mad by the increasingly autocratic demands of his father. What to do, what to do?
The real cause of the split is so painfully obvious to me that I wonder they didn't see it coming years ago; and to me, the solution is equally clear. The problem is that Senior runs his company like most corporations are run: as a feudal kingdom:
- The CEO is the king;
- He has his vassal lords -- his dukes, counts, and barons, the senior corporate officers;
- He has his parliament -- the board of directors, on which he may or may not sit, and which more or less controls the purse strings but not the company itself (unless the CEO is also the majority stockholder, as in this case);
- He has his sheriffs -- the managers, group leaders, and shop foremen;
- And the rest of the workers are basically serfs... they have no authority, generally no input, and like mushrooms, are kept in the dark and fed fertilizer.
This organization model works no better in a corporation than its counterpart did in national government. If you have a really good king, he can overcome the inherent inefficiency and inevitable scheming and backstabbing; if you have a mediocre to poor monarch, the company settles, collapses, and dies an ignominious death.
But long ago, we found a much better way to organize society's resources, human capital, ingenuity, energy, and time; we call that new model Capitalism.
Enter the Mises ex machina
This is a true anecdote. No, really. I remembered an article I read many years ago about the feudal structure of most corporations; it advocated extending the principles of Capitalism into the workplace itself... but I couldn't quite remember exactly what the author suggested.
But then, while putting things into storage, I opened a box stored in our linen closet, and behold! There was the very article I'd been trying to resurrect in my memory. It's titled "New Work for Invisible Hands," by Richard Cornuelle (born 1927), and it appeared in the Times Literary Supplement almost exactly 18 years ago (April 5th, 1991). It was supposedly reprinted by the Cato Institute, but I can't find it online. (If somebody can, please let me know the URL in comments, and I'll include it here. Note that the TLS online archives only date back to 1994.)
The piece galvanized me as nothing on the subject had before. For years, I had struggled in the workforce, aware that something was terrible awry but not really knowing what to do about it. Rereading the piece today, I found the exact paragraph that made me leap to my feet back in 1991. (Remember, this was in the age of Papa Bush; the very idea of the piece was revolutionary):
Libertarian thought is wonderfully sound as far as it goes, but there are two gaping holes in it that now gravely threaten its relevance. For one thing, there is no very distinct libertarian vision of community -- of social as opposed to economic process -- outside the state: The alluring libertarian contention that society would probably work better if the state could somehow be limited to keeping the peace and enforcing contracts has to be taken largely on faith. Nor have libertarians confronted the disabling hypocrisy of the capitalist rationale which insists that while the capitalists themselves must have extensive freedom of action, their employees may have much less. Their explanation of how an invisible hand arranges economic resources rationally without authoritarian direction stops short at the factory gate. Inside factories and offices, the heavy, visible hand of management continues to rule with only token opposition. [All emphasis added.]
Mises! That point, which seems so obvious once stated, lit so many intellectual fires in my cerebral cortex that I'm still steaming.
Through much of the article, Cornuelle concerns himself with describing a culture of "imaginative voluntary action" (service organizations, churches and synagogues, private charities, and other forms of volunteerism) to take the place of government social action on poverty; disease control; illiteracy, innumeracy, and miseducation; environmental pollution; crime; drug addiction; cultural isolation; and so forth. This section is fascinating, but much work on this subject has already been published in the intervening two decades, so I won't go into it.
I'm more interested in the area that has been virtually bereft of creative, innovative libertarian and free-market thought before and after Cornuelle's article... and that is where the author truly illuminates the path forward.
This little piggie goes to market
The first task before creating the future is to describe the now, and Cornuelle does this beautifully; it's virtually impossible to argue with any sentence in this complex yet crystaline paragraph, as true today as in 1991:
When freemen went to work in factories, their status was not unlike that of the iron-collared serfs who had preceded them. Their employment was a kind of voluntary indenture, tacitly renewed each day, in which the worker agreed to submit to supervision for a certain number of hours for an agreed-to amount of pay. Workers were free in one sense, but painfully unfree in another. Feudalism had only moved indoors. The movement to civilize this relationship has been more or less continuous. Workplaces have been made safer, lighter, warmer and more agreeable. Wages are higher, hours shorter, and an accumulation of law and custom has elaborated the rights of employees and put limits on the prerogatives of employers. But the system has yet to be altered elementally. Working people are far, far freer than slaves or indentured servants, but they are not as free as their bosses and not nearly as free as they might be.
The economic and spiritual consequences of such "wage slavery" (to liberate a term from the Marxists) are devastating, not only to workplace productivity but to the soul of the employee... particularly in the case of what the Japanese call the "salaryman."
If you are employed by someone else, the odds are high that when you come home from work you are drained mentally and emotionally, which manifests physically as well (falling asleep in front of the TV at 9:00 pm). You often miss milestones in your children's development, much of your social life revolves around co-workers, you find it hard to talk about anything other than work at parties and other social gatherings; your life revolves around Work, and a terrible temptation arises to begin defining yourself in terms of your Work: "What are you?" Not "I'm a father of three," or "I'm a writer," or "I'm a Hasidic Jew," or "My husband and I are adventure racers;" but "I work for Lockheed."
There is little time to see a play, sing-along with your family, go hunting, read a book, or wrestle with your kids. And on the week-ends, you cram every chore that had to be postponed during the week-days into the few hours you have away from Work... so even that precious time is sucked dry by the corporation, like a fat, gouty aristo Hoovering the marrow from a pork bone.
Worse is the psychological effect: Saluting and obeying become the essential thread of your personality; you internalize the military-like regimentation of Work; you begin to think of yourself as a servant, not a free human with the capacity and potential to rise above your lot.
Thus does Work prime you for socialism; as Cornuelle puts it, paraphrasing Friedrich Hayek:
Employed people can scarcely be expected to revere qualities they have been carefully instructed to repress. Instead, they tend to become what the way they work requires: politicized, unimaginative, unenterprising, petty, security-obsessed, and passive.
These are not qualities that can sustain the American experiment of individual liberty and self-government.
Cornuelle gets a bit cryptic when he discusses practical treatments for the social disease he diagnoses; but I think I can flesh it out somewhat. He writes:
[N]ow there is a movement toward more elemental reform which would de-politicize workplaces entirely, make each worker self-supervising, and base compensation on some credible estimate of the value each person adds to whatever product or service the firm produces, in effect bringing the principle of the free market into the plant. But without a legitimatizing rationale, something the libertarians are best equipped to provide, this is bound to be a confused and halting process.
Alas, that is all the guidance he gives us; nevertheless, let's extrapolate that out to a workable, practical reform and see what it looks like.
The military model of decentralization (?!)
Here I'll drag Donald Rumsfeld, willy-nilly, into the debate (probably against his will). Besides winning two wars (and almost losing two peaces), Rumsfeld will be best remembered, at least by military historians, for his reform of the American military. Boiled down to its essentials, he sought to do three things:
- Decentralize control of the troops to put as much responsibility and accountability as possible in the smallest units -- squads -- shifting power from the standard divisional structure to men with stripes on their sleeves, the actual war-fighters. Officers would set the goals, keep track of progress, and ensure that the units in contact with the enemy (or containing the enemy) have all the resources they needed to do their jobs.
- Break down the barriers between types of units, so that small, almost voluntary collectives of soldiers (I'm using the word "soldier" generically) with disparate specialities can integrate into a powerful, self-sustaining, and self-directed team. Thus, instead of having an infantry unit that depends upon a separate and not-very-well coordinated artillery unit -- controlled by a colonel "somewhere else" who is not necessarily even in communication with the general in command of the infantry brigade -- to bombard the enemy prior to a firefight, under the Rumsfeld reforms, small units could themselves call in airstrikes or artillery as needed from individual air-support or artillery squads, without waiting for the bird and the star to have a sit-down with each other.
- Uplink each soldier (ideally), or at least each squad-level unit, with a coordinated, networked virtual battlefield, allowing the brass to follow the entire conflict in a way that Napoleon could only dream of doing. As in Robert A. Heinlein's seminal novel Starship Troopers, the battle can now be mapped almost as a problem in fluid-flow. Commanders can zoom in on hot spots or widen the view to catch opportunities missed by the men on the ground -- or catch potential threats before they coalesce into devastation.
The decentralized, integrated, coordinated battlefield of today and tomorrow revolutionizes warfare as thoroughly as did air power, repeating arms, or even gunpowder itself. And this same model can revolutionize Work -- to the point where it may become unrecognizable.
Free the human 200 million!
We're already seeing the beginnings of decentralization in the increasing use of independent contractors in large businesses -- non-employees who pay their own medical insurance, retirement (including paying self-employment tax instead of having FICA contributions deducted), and other benefits in exchange for a higher rate of payment. But we'll cross a more vital threshold when companies cease paying contractors by the hour worked, and begin paying instead for projects completed.
Whenever a person is paid on the basis of time spent with butt in chair, he is an employee even if he is an ostensibly independent contractor: The client has every right and every motivation to clock the worker's every working moment, to ensure the client is not being cheated. After all, if he's being paid by the hour, the incentive is to take as long as he can possibly justify... the opposite of productivity. If he finishes your project early, his reward is to be paid less!
But if the contractor is paid according to what he produces, then his time is his own: So long as he finishes the project on time and within the budget (or can make a convincing case why he and the client had underestimated the original schedule and budget), the client has neither right nor reason to inquire about how the contractor spends his time... any more than you have reason to interrogate your dentist about how long a lunch break he takes or when he knocks off for the day.
Not only that, but the quicker he finished the first project (in a manner that the client approves), the quicker he can move to the next; being more productive means he makes more money, incentivizing productivity. This is a huge economic boost for the client as well as the contractor.
Of course it's important to recognize the most intractible limitation to Capitalism: Most people don't really want to be capitalists. They want to be told what to do and supervised closely; most folks really do want to be "wage slaves," because they enjoy the security they fancy it supplies.
Of course, after getting laid off a few times, they may change their minds; but as even Ayn Rand understood and depicted in Atlas Shrugged, for every independent, fully self-actualized Dagny Taggart, there are a thousand Eddie Willers -- competent, loyal followers who simply lack either the creative capacity or the will to become independent, fully-realized human beings.
In spite of that dreary reality, however, there are many more budding capitalists than the contemporary fascist structure of corporations allows to bloom; and even for the Eddie Willers, increasing the scope of Capitalism will benefit them indirectly by increasing the wealth of society and making the workplace more livable. But potential capitalists cannot truly revolutionize the workplace, let alone Work, without the next phase: integrating Capitalism into that corporate structure itself.
Just as the armed forces are moving rapidly towards small, self-contained military units that have all the capacity they need to independently accomplish their missions, corporations can move away from discrete and disconnected, overly specialized corporate departments to integrated business units or cells organized around products or projects. As Heinlein said, "specialization is for insects."
Why should Accounting, Personnel, Legal, Sales, Marketing, Operations, and Management all be separated from the productive departments? It may have made sense in the early days of industrialization, as perhaps did unions; but like unions, the time for a wall of separation between "creation" and "control" has passed.
A new, post-modern corporate structure would be organized into business units around the various products -- that which customers want to buy. A big company would have many business units; a small might have only one. Each business unit or cell would comprise an array of contractors (and some Eddie Willers-type employees) who are all assigned to the same project, which provides the organizing reason for the business unit itself.
Consider, for instance, a software company, and imagine this integrated work environment:
- One of the major product lines is an accounting application called Mercury. The Mercury team comprises software engineers, accountants, marketers, and salespeople.
- Each element has a team lead (an engineering team lead, an accounting team lead, and so forth). The team leads keep track of the progress of their piece of the project and the needs of their people, and they coordinate with each other to set schedules and allocate resources.
- The accountants actually use the Mercury application to do their accounting; they're usually a version behind, because they need it to work. But they regularly alpha-test the current software.
- The engineers work closely with the accountants, ensuring that the product is oriented around what accountants actually do, rather than around the software modules that make up the application code: That is, the program menus and functions reflect the real-world work of accountants... not the way the code happens to be divided up and distributed for purposes of efficient program design.
- The marketing people within the Mercury team have input into the product design; they too consult with the accountants, so they can more effectively find out what the target market wants to see in the product.
- The sales people use the product in their own work (updating their sales targets and such), so they too can better sell the product to the target market.
- Lawyer members of the Mercury legal team would focus on the project's legal issues, whether it's software compliance with the tax code (a product issue) or collections, lawsuits anent the application, team-member disputes, and so forth (corporate issues).
- More important, the entire team (as a unit) must "buy" its resources -- manpower, computers, packaging, printing, and even utilities and office supplies -- from the parent company, using company scrip; but they keep a royalty (in scrip) from the product sales, which is used to pay for these resources... and leftover scrip becomes real money, paid to the team members as bonuses.
(Note another important point: A single person can be assigned to multiple projects... and he gets paid for each. Thus, an engineer might work on the Mercury project, but he might also write code for a tax-filing application, a workflow application, or a customer sales-contact application. Each contractor must manage his own time to ensure timely completion of all the projects to which he's attached. The current corporate structure tends to infantalize employees; a more internally capitalist structure matures and expands the abilities of its independent contractors.)
You see the point? We need to create little mini-companies within the parent corporation to institutionalize Capitalism in the belly of the beast; and each independent contractor team member has a monetary incentive to maximize sales (by making the best possible product) and minimize cost (because bonuses are paid based upon the "profit" earned by the team).
"The part that they forgot to kill went on to organize!"
Finally, the project officers who "run" the Mercury project are actually clients of the team member contractors... and their incentive is to get the best application out the fastest they can to be as profitable as possible -- not to waste time supervising every minute of every "employee's" day, attending endless (and useless) meetings, or writing detailed reports of everything the vice president demands to justify his own phony-baloney job.
Similarly, the higher-up corporate officers have the same incentive: Their only bonuses, perhaps their only income, would come from direct ownership (stock holdings in the company) or profit-based bonuses; no more question about whether they truly "earned" their money... if they don't, they don't get any.
And the best part, from my perspective, is that independent contractors, being their own bosses, don't need industrial unions; in fact, the very idea of an involuntary union of independents is self contradictory. Thus the only "union" possible would in fact be the very type of voluntary organization that we want to train people to accept and rely upon, in order to wean our larger society away from government control of every social issue towards a more robust volunteerism and self-help. Capitalism leads directly to more social interaction between people -- and more volunteerism.
Enchained of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your Work
You may have noticed that I use the word Work, capitalized; this signifies what I think it means to most people in the country: the central component of their lives. They spend more time at Work than anywhere else. Work supplies the lion's share of their human relationships; and many bosses believe Work should take precedence over everything else in their employees' lives -- over recreation, over sleep, even over their families.
In Judeo-Christian (and probably Islamic) cultures, Work is penance, a punishment assumed to atone for the original sin of disobeying God's order not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In Tanakh, the Jewish bible, Genesis 3:19 covers it pretty well: "By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground -- for from it you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return." The King James and Catholic bibles are equally grim.
(I believe the whole problem stems from mistaking the natural consequences of maturity for a curse. As a child, your parents do everything for you; the price of growing up is that you must scratch for your own seed. In fact, I see the entire Old Testament as a parable of this same dynamic, applied to human civilization as a whole... but developing this theme further is beyond the scope of this post.)
Work becomes a God to be worshipped; to speak against "hard work" (meaning Work) is blasphemy. To reject Work is heresy that is punished by casting out the heretic. That is why so many people routinely refer to the self-employed as "lazy bums," even if they in fact work (small-w) harder than an employee would: The fact that they work for themselves, are not employed by a boss-man, means that they don't really Work... so the time they spend and the products they create are meaningless. How can they be productive? They don't suffered the way I do!
Capitalism is pro-work, but it is inherently anti-Work; Work is a remnant from the early days of modern industrialization in the heavily repressed Victorian era. Pleasure is the opposite of Work; but work (small-w) can and should be a pleasure, and it can and will happily co-exist with non-work related pleasures, strengthening family ties and mentally heathful recreation away from the workplace and one's co-workers.
Ideally, increasing automation will drastically reduce the amount of time we must spend at work -- which violates a central tenet of Work-as-God. At the event horizon, we would need to spend only a few minutes per day doing things to create wealth, and the rest of our time we will spend enjoying that wealth.
But first, we must eliminate Work in favor of work; that is the first step. We must rise up as a culture and abolish Work, at least for anyone who aspires to be more than an Eddie Willers.
Chopping the chopper
But in case you've forgotten in all the excitement of Capitalist revolution, this has all been a tangent; we were really talking about Orange County Choppers, Paul Sr., and his son Paulie... remember?
Senior is the boss, and he sets very strict rules for his employees. He monitors their movements like a hawk monitors the movements of mice. Every employee must show up at 7:00 am on the dot; lunch and other breaks are short and strictly enforced; I believe they work 10-hour days.
Worse, if Senior looks out the glass wall of his office and sees people talking or walking around instead of actually banging metal, he comes storming out to scream at them in front of everybody... and he doesn't even accept the defense that such non-physical activities as thinking, designing, sketching, and communicating with other employees can also constitute Work. It was only with a lot of tooth-pulling that Paulie got his father to hire a computer graphic designer, Jason Pohl; and even now, Senior treats Jason as a bad joke -- except when he forces him to bend metal, a task for which he really is not suited.
But when Paulie was there, he would spend many hours conversing with Jason before even touching any tools, coming up with increasingly fantastic designs as the seasons passed. And a lot of times, Paulie comes in late, leaves early, and takes long lunches. Bad "employee," right? But his father also berates him for taking too long thinking about the build before starting to hammer out gas tanks or bend tubing for handlebars.
To me, the solution is so obvious, it's actually frustrating that neither Senior nor Junior gets it... so much so that if this Hamlet-like indecision continues much longer, I may cease watching the show: Paulie is simply not meant to be an employee; he is a Capitalist at heart.
Paulie should come back to OCC -- as an independent contractor. He should incorporate himself, and Senior (his father) should contract with that company to design and build the special bikes, plus the stock bikes when there is time. In other words, he should do the same job he was doing as an employee, but as a non-employee.
OCC would not pay him a salary, nor would it pay any benefits at all. Instead, it would pay a contracting fee, and Paulie would pay all those other things himself -- for himself, and also for his employees. Yes, OCC should let other employees go; they already realize they must lay people off, due to the bad financial times (which curtail both corporate sponsorship of elaborate motorcycles and also ordinary people buying the stock choppers, which are after all luxuries). Paulie's design company should hire some of these laid-off employees -- especially including Jason Pohl.
The benefits to OCC are obvious: They don't have all the overhead of so many employees, and they only have to pay Paulie when he's actually working for them. They pay a lump sum, which is just as deductable as a business expense as were Paulie's salary and bennies when he was an employee. And most important, Senior can relax, because Junior's work habits are no longer his business -- literally.
The benefits to Paulie are equally clear: He can come and go as he pleases, work however he wants in order to create the build, and isn't under the thumb of his father. But at the same time, since he doesn't want his business to fail, he has a gigantic incentive to ensure that come what may, the build is completed on time, within budget, and to the customer's satisfaction... because if he doesn't, Senior can easily contract with a different bike designer for the same product.
In addition, Paulie can use all the machines at OCC -- from lifts and compressed air for power tools to the FlowJet and its five-axis bigger cousin to the CAD setup for Jason -- to design and create his choppers, along with the actual physical space; Paulie doesn't have to buy all those things for himself. In fact, even if he contracts with some other company in the future, if it doesn't interfere with OCC's own work, he might be able to lease access to OCC's infrastructure; again, everybody benefits.
Having his own employees will force Junior to start understanding and confronting the same pressures that his father has to deal with, which will probably bring them closer together as a family (a serendipitous effect of the market). But since his will be a much, much smaller company, his employees -- the Eddie Willers who really do want and need to be told what to do -- will have much more input, responsibilty, accountability, and access than they would as employees of the larger company as a whole. They will be happier and will have a financial incentive to be more innovative and creative; they will likely be paid with both straight compensation and with company stock, as most startups do, so Paulie's success is the employees' success in a very direct way.
Then in the future, when even Paulie's company gets too big and begins to emulate a government (and a feudal one at that!), key employees of Paulie can split off and become independent contractors to him, just as he did with OCC.
Back to the future
This corporate reform would introduce a dose of real Capitalism into the work relationship... which is exactly what has been missing from the Mediaeval structure of nearly every corporation in America (and the world). A number of companies have in fact been experimenting with just such an arrangement of business units, with varying success. (Contrary to libertarian rhetoric, freedom does not come naturally to people: One must command them to be free.)
But once people get a taste for liberty, you cannot take it away without a fight. As that is our greatest strength as a country and society, it makes sense for us to incorporate it into every facet of America that we can... and most especially, we must ditch the "command economy," at all levels, in favor of economic freedom, Capitalism, and the ownership society.
Else we will end up in just as dire a straite as Orange County Chopper, as our most creative minds will simply pack up and find somewhere more congenial to work -- small-w.
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